We love quality literature in my house. We use a literature-rich history curriculum (which means that in addition to a history textbook, we also have read alouds and student readers that are all related to the period that we’re currently studying), and my kids are some of those fantastic type of people who read under the sheets when they’re supposed to be sleeping.
I very rarely bust them for it. Just enough to keep it fun for them to run the risk. I want them to read.
Because of our love of literature, I was very excited to be asked to review “Bud, Not Buddy” at the Kennedy Center as part of their JFKC: A Centennial Celebration of John F. Kennedy observance. Performances selected for this JFKC series must demonstrate one of JFK’s core values, and “Bud, Not Buddy” embodies bravery and courage. “Bud, Not Buddy” is based on the novel by the same name, which just happens to have won the Newbery Medal for Children’s Literature, as well as a Coretta Scott King Award for outstanding African American authors. How could you mess up a book that is so fantastic?
And then we saw the stage.
It was weird. There is a jazz band taking up over 3/4 of the stage and then just a row of music stands with lights. A tall pole advises you of the speed limit (horses at a walk, cars 10 miles per hour). My middle son, Logan, who I’d brought with me, agreed to keep an open mind as we read through the very engaging program that the Kennedy Center put together to help children understand and digest the performance, which included information about how Kirsten Greenidge adapted the book into a play, the meaning of some of the period-specific phrases that we’d be hearing (copacetic, for example, means “okay”), and a little bit about the time period the story takes place- The Great Depression.
I made a point of asking Logan if he’d ever really listened to jazz music, and he said he thought he’d heard it in hotel lobbies and elevators. I tried to remain cautiously optimistic, but I didn’t think this was going to go well.
And then, the show started. A line of actors danced out onto the stage with jazz music playing in the background. They slapped each other high-fives and danced on the steps leading up to the musicians while they donned hats from a small coat rack with several options. One separated himself out from the group and found his way to a music stand where he began half-reading, half-performing his part as Bud (not Buddy). Slowly, as they were needed, other actors made their way to their own music stands where they began the same type of performance. They had scripts in front of them, but clearly knew the material and engaged with the audience even though their intention was to tell us the story. This was like the best book on tape I’d ever heard- and was made even better by the actors’ use of small hand gestures and movement across the small stage as they sometimes changed places in order to allow two characters to face each other. Most of the characters played more than one part, but it wasn’t hard to follow because their voices and demeanor changed with each new addition to the story.
As far as the story itself, Bud is a 10 year old boy whose mother died when he was 6, leaving him to a life of foster homes and orphanages (although he doesn’t use that word). Bud has developed a series of rules to help him have a “funner” life and be a better liar- a skill which he considers vital. Bud has a suitcase tied together with twine- a prized possession since most orphans only have a pillow case or bag- and in it he keeps several treasured items, including an advertisement for a band that he knows is headed by his father. After a particularly bad stint at a foster home, Bud decides to set out on an adventure to find his father. But will he succeed?
“Bud, Not Buddy” is funny, passionate, and dynamic. We enjoyed the show so much that when the show ended (it’s only an hour-long performance) my son asked me hopefully if it was “only intermission,” hoping that the story would continue on, even though he knew it was over. This performance is recommended for ages 9 and up by the Kennedy Center, and for some of its content, I am inclined to agree with them, although a 7-9 year old who is not bothered by death of a parent or mistreatment in foster care would also enjoy the show. The jazz music is fantastic (“nothing like a hotel”) and the actors are all highly skilled.
Both Logan and I think that your family would love to catch a performance of “Bud, Not Buddy” and recommend you check it out before it leaves town Monday. Tickets start at $20.
Disclaimer: The Kennedy Center provided us with 2 complimentary tickets to enjoy the show. All opinions, however, are our own.